AFTER JESUS FLIPPED THE TABLES of merchants at the Jerusalem Temple, he tore into the religion leaders but good.
To some readers, he might even sound uncharacteristically mean-spirited.
Not like himself and all.
In fact, beside himself.
I was working yesterday paraphrasing Matthew 23 for the Casual English Bible. It’s the chapter I’m calling “Hypocrites in high places.”
Take a look at some of the things he says about the religion scholars known as scribes, along with the Pharisees. See if it doesn’t leave you wondering the same thing I wondered: What got Jesus this mad?
“Whenever they do something that makes them look religious, they do it for the audience; they’re putting on a show” (23:5).
“You hypocrites. You confiscate the property of widows, cheating them out of their homes. Then you have the nerve to go out in public and pray long prayers so people will compliment you. When it comes time to punish you, you’ll get something extra” (23:14).
“You’ll travel far and wide over land and sea to win a single convert. Then you’ll turn that person into a son of Satan who’s twice as bad as you are” (23:15).
“You’re like a garden graveyard, manicured and presentable on the surface. Down deep, you’re full of dead men’s bones and rotting guts that pollute the dirt” (23:27).
“On the outside, you look religious and goodhearted. But inside you are full of hypocrisy and broken laws” (23:28).
After I finish paraphrasing the chapter, I create discussion questions and responses for a leader’s guide.
I’m now trying to figure out an answer to this question:
- If words alone could pick someone up and throw them on the ground, the words Jesus uses to describe the religion scholars would do just that. Why is he so vicious?
I’m still working up an answer, but see what you think about what I have so far:
These spiritual leaders are supposed to be pointing people to God. But they are pointing people to themselves. They are taking on the role of God by making and enforcing rules they expect people to live by. And they demand the kind of devotion and obedience and praise that God deserves.
In a sense, these religion scholars and spiritual leaders are walking, talking idols that are leading people away from God. Jesus came to counter that. He came to introduce the Kingdom of Heaven to people who didn’t know about it. And he came to lead people to God. Jesus had no alternative but to shred the religion leaders who were turning Jews into sons of Satan.
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Well, Jesus never claimed to be pacifist. In fact, in Matthew 10, he says, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Stephen M. Miller
Well, he never said it. But he lived it, for the most part.
The sword comment wasn’t about war. He was talking about his Good News causing families and friends to split up, perhaps the way our president has divided families and friends with his policies and behavior.
Jesus was famous for teaching people to turn the other cheek, for telling Peter to put the sword away at the arrest of Jesus in the Garden, and for submitting to execution when he said he could have called an army of angels.
Jesus didn’t seem fond of violence. But he didn’t like hypocrites in high office leading the Jewish religion away from God.
Maybe that was his red line. Or maybe his human temper took over for a moment. Or maybe the Spirit told him to Wreak Havoc, a bit like preachers pounding the pulpit. The Bible doesn’t say why Jesus did something uncharacteristically intrusive. It could seem more like something we’d expect from James and John, the Sons of Thunder who wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan town that rejected Jesus.
Still, Christians give Jesus the benefit of the doubt, and seem to feel that whatever the reason Jesus had, it must have been a good and godly one.
Good points all, Steve. But I’ve never liked the idea that Jesus’ temper got the best of him in the Temple. Or that he just kind of lost it when he saw what a disgrace it had become.
He knew what he was doing. And he certainly wasn’t one to let his emotions get the best of him.
Stephen M. Miller
I think most Christians would agree with you. I’d probably put my money on that bet, too.
Still, it’s hard for me to imagine someone flipping tables without losing their temper. It’s also hard for me to imagine a parent spanking a child enough to inflict pain while maintaining full control of their temper.
Anger and violence at just about any level seem to me to be linked to at least some temper overload.
But, I’m not a shrink. And I wasn’t there at the Temple.